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What is sexuality education?

Comprehensive relationships and sexuality education/mātauranga hōkakatanga includes age appropriate information, skills and values.  Comprehensive relationships and sexuality education is evidence-based and supports a parent or caregiver’s input.

What is relationships and sexuality education?

Comprehensive relationships and sexuality education is learning about:

  • the emotional, social, spiritual, physical and biological aspects of growing up
  • relationships
  • sex
  • human sexuality
  • sexual and reproductive health/oranga taihema.

It involves young people/rangatahi in expanding knowledge, exploring attitudes and developing skills in order to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.

We support and have developed an ‘age- appropriate’ approach to sexuality and relationships education. This means that programmes are developed in response to a child or young person’s stage or level of development.

What is the purpose of relationships and sexuality education?

The purpose of comprehensive relationships and sexuality education is to give children/tamariki and young people information, skills and values to have safe, fulfilling and enjoyable relationships and to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

It aims to contribute to behaviour change, including reducing unprotected and unwanted sex, and reducing harmful behaviour, including sexual offences such as assault and abuse.

What is good quality relationships and sexuality education?

Research shows quality relationships and sexuality education programmes happen when:

  • both school and home are involved in sexuality education
  • trained educators are used
  • a range of topics is addressed, including contraception
  • psychosocial factors which affect behaviour, including values, norms and self-efficacy are talked about
  • they begin before a young person first has sex
  • they use learning methods which encourage participation
  • they include small group work.

Does relationship and sexuality education work?

Relationships and sexuality education programmes increase knowledge about sexuality and reduce the risk of pregnancy or sexually transmissible infections.

Good quality comprehensive relationships and sexuality education also helps to protect young people.

International research has found that many relationships and sexuality education programmes delay the first time young people have sex, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom or contraceptive use.

Comprehensive programmes which also provide sexual and reproductive health, healthier behaviour and talking about attitudes and values result in better health outcomes.

What is an appropriate age to start relationship and sexuality education?

Because relationships and sexuality education is much more than “the birds and the bees” it should start young.

Young people are maturing at younger ages than ever before and are bombarded with media messages about sexuality.

If parents and educators are not talking about sexuality, young people will get their messages from the internet, music, videos and films.

Relationships and sexuality education helps them make sense of messages in the media and gives them skills to separate fact from fiction.

It is important for children to feel comfortable asking questions and building on their understanding as they mature.

This is helped by having normal conversations about bodies, good and bad feelings, families and relationships and learning communication skills.

Who should teach relationships and sexuality education?

It is more effective when relationships and sexuality education is talked about at home and at school.

Parents or carers are the first teachers for their children. They are role models for relationship behaviours, gender roles and expectations.

Not all parents or carers are comfortable talking about sexuality and relationships and comprehensive sexuality education at school can complement this education at home.

Young people may develop different values from their parents or carers which can be challenging to accept.

However, research shows that parents or carers who talk with their young people about their dreams and hopes for them are protecting them.

This is more likely to delay them becoming sexually active and to use contraception/ārai hapū when they are having sex.

What questions do young people ask during relationships and sexuality education sessions?

Younger students want to know about:

  • changes to their bodies
  • what is going to happen
  • whether their feelings and what they look like is “normal”
  • what happens with reproduction
  • how to manage things like crushes, periods, erections, wet dreams
  • how to show someone they like them.

Girls tend to ask more relationship and emotions-related questions and boys focus a little more on the body and sexual activities.

Older students want to know:

  • how to tell if they are ready to have sex
  • how to tell if someone likes them, information about types of sex
  • how to make sexual activity more enjoyable
  • types of contraception and where to get it
  • how to know if you’re pregnant
  • about abortion
  • about emotions in relationships
  • about dealing with break ups
  • about sexual orientation and identity.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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